Volunteers warm, feed those in need throughout winter

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 23, 2018

 Nancy Casler gives a haircut at McWarm, a warming center at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish.

Nancy Casler gives a haircut at McWarm, a warming center at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

 Colleen Salamone unpacks donated food for the pantry Nov. 19.

Colleen Salamone unpacks donated food for the pantry Nov. 19.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske


ST. CLAIR SHORES — A hot shower, three meals a day, clean clothes and a haircut are things that most people take for granted.

Not so for those visiting the McWarm shelter at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish, 21201 13 Mile Road.

Lola has been coming to the warming shelter since 2009. Like others who receive services from McWarm, she also pitches in and volunteers in the clothing room.

“Some of the time, I was homeless, and some of the time, I was in a house,” she said. “I didn’t know about it before 2009. I met this guy and he said he could help me find some clothes.”

She said that the great food and hot showers that McWarm provides to those in need of its services is wonderful.

“The lunch is like a dinner,” she said.

McWarm begins around 7:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with a hearty, warm breakfast. Throughout the morning, there are prayers and opportunities to visit the clothing closet, as well as take a shower and get a haircut. The visitors talk over mid-morning snacks as they wait for the midday meal, another hot meal like pepper steak over rice with corn, soup, salad and bread.

In the kitchen, volunteers are busy in between meals getting ready for the following session. On Nov. 19, they were preparing for Thanksgiving, which would be served the day before the national holiday, but was still set to feature turkey, stuffing, potatoes and more.

Debbie Cresent, who works in the kitchen, said that she has found different ways of cooking food to accommodate large quantities — for green bean casserole, for example, she said she would make several layers of casserole so that it could be served one layer at a time out of the same large roasting pan.

The volunteers good-naturedly rib and tease each other while peeling apples, measuring broth for stuffing, washing dishes and more.

“You’ve got to make it fun, and we have a good time here,” Cresent said.

Carolyn Johnson and her husband, the late St. Clair Shores firefighter Norman Johnson, helped to begin McWarm about 15 years ago with support from the parish and clergy.

“It’s very much of a need,” Johnson said. “It’s a need for them just to get out of the cold.

“A guy came in from Virginia (and) he said, ‘I haven’t eaten in three days.’ He kept eating and eating.”

Those coming to McWarm can pick out a set of clothing for the day. They are allowed five pairs of jeans per year, but the volunteers at McWarm also do laundry and return clean clothes back to their owners.

Volunteers also help those who need help getting documents like birth certificates, give out bus tickets and even provide space for housing officials to work with those in need of a place to live.

“They take care of you,” said Joe, who was at McWarm in November.

He said that the volunteers at McWarm are very helpful in providing resources to those with low incomes or without a place to stay.

Jerry Harrold Sr. cooks in the kitchen of McWarm. He arrives around 6 a.m. to start cooking breakfast before the first people seeking shelter at McWarm arrive around 7. Breakfast is served between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. Recently, breakfast was a gravy over biscuits with hamburger or sausage served alongside eggs cooked with onions and meat.

The midday meal is served at 11 a.m. Those seeking shelter at McWarm have to leave by noon.

“They’ve at least got three decent meals a week,” Harrold said. “We get people from all over the place. We’re getting more and more because a lot of these warming centers are closed, so we’re it.”

He said that people come from all over, from Oakland County to Fort Gratiot and beyond. The volunteers running McWarm don’t ask questions; anyone who wants to come and sign in is welcome to do so. McWarm isn’t affiliated with any government program, and everything it offers comes from donations.

“Every spring, we have a garage sale and we sell stuff that parishioners bring in, and we usually make somewhere around $10,000, and that helps defray the costs,” Harrold said. “The only one that’s feeding us any food at all is Forgotten Harvest.”

The local Knights of Columbus also makes donations to support the program, he said.

There is always a large group of people taking advantage of the center’s offerings.

“The other day, we had 88, and that was two days after payday,” he said, explaining that sometimes there are fewer people immediately after the first of the month, when Social Security checks are mailed out. “The most we’ve had is, last year, I had 140-some.”

He said they don’t ask questions as long as people are behaving.

“If there’s trouble, we get rid of them real quick,” he said. “We have a pretty good rapport with the Police and Fire departments.”

McWarm is open from Nov. 1 to March 31.

This is the ninth year that Nancy Casler, a stylist at Lord’s & Lady’s Hair Care, 23014 Greater Mack Ave. in St. Clair Shores, has volunteered her time cutting hair for those using the services provided by McWarm.

“This is what I can do to help some of these people,” she said.

Not everyone who comes to McWarm is homeless or in need of food or clothing. Eddie Perry comes for the company.

“I just come and hang out,” said Perry, who suffered a stroke earlier and enjoys the company at McWarm. “The homeless can come in, take a shower, get clothes. They’re good people here.”

The clothing closet is in need of men’s size large coats and large warm gloves, as well as thermal underwear.

Local residents can help the McWarm food pantry by purchasing cards during the holidays at Meijer, 30800 Little Mack Ave. in Roseville. The grocery store matches the donations made by customers. Ninety percent of the food that McWarm receives comes from Forgotten Harvest, which makesa a  food delivery every Tuesday.

Frank Myers has been coming to McWarm for about five years. He said he helps every so often when the warming shelter is low on volunteers. He was setting out cups for drinks Nov. 19.

“It’s really the only place to take a shower on a regular basis,” he said. “They’ve got clothes, you can pig out on a lot of food, it’s fairly warm.”

As the visitors packed up to leave after the midday meal, they were handed a bag lunch with a sandwich, a cookie, a drink and fruit to tide them over till McWarm reopened in two days.

Johnson said that they accept help from anyone willing to share even a half-hour of their time.

“We not only have Catholic members that are working there, I have Lutherans, whatever. Whoever wants to volunteer, if you can give me a half an hour, a whole hour ... I don’t care, just come in and volunteer,” she said.

News of McWarm spreads through word of mouth, she said. It’s a lot of work to run the center three days a week, but Johnson said that she feels it’s a calling.

“I lost my husband. I got cancer. I texted (the Rev. Ron DeHondt) and he keeps asking, ‘Can you do it? How do you feel?’ I said, I need them as much as they need me, and that’s the way I feel,” she said. “You have other ones that are so sweet. That’s what makes it where you really want to do this.”

To donate to McWarm or to volunteer, call St. Margaret of Scotland Parish at (586) 293-2240.

Johnson said that the volunteers are a great group of people.

“You have to have fun there to do it, and that’s what we do, we tease each other and we’re the best of buddies.”